How to Love on Your Inner Defender

Dear Soft Hearted People,

Maryam Fallahi is our international expert and life coach working on things such as  life planning, behavior change, habit formation, self sabotaging behavior, etc. She’s back as a guest blogger with a very skillful article on our inner defender. She utilizes a lot of this Internal Family Systems (IFS) stuff you hear me talking about. Please reach out to her for coaching support on your inner defenders or post a comment if you’d like to express yourself here. You can email Maryam for a coaching session at: fallahi.choicecoach@gmail.com

With kindness,

Dr. J

What’s the Inner Defender?

Hi. I am back! Today I want to introduce you to a new part of our psyche—the inner defender.

The inner defender gets activated in response to our inner critic. It’s job is to defend our dignity ; to preserve our integrity; and to keep our self-esteem intact. Where the inner critic attacks, criticizes, and compares, the inner defender fights back, it demands the critic to be quiet and stop its attacks. For instance, If the inner critic calls us lazy, it argues it that we are not lazy. It the inner critic thinks we are fat, it tells it to get lost. It tries to get rid of our inner critic or expel it from our psyche to no avail.  Even though our inner defender is our sweet internal rescuer, it cannot save us because it too is a child part. Consider the following scenario where two fifth graders (Abdol and Joseph) are fighting on the playground:

Joseph- You are so stupid.

Abdol- I’m not stupid.

Joseph- Oh, you are!

Abdol – I will show you who is stupid (defends himself).

 The problem is in arguing with the inner critic not only do we lose a tremendous amount of energy but also the fact that we are arguing with the inner critic dignifies whatever it is saying and shows the power it has over our psyche. The fifth grader fights his class mate because first of all he sees him as  a threat and secondly he is convinced he can protect himself by getting Joseph to respect him. On the other hand, if the fifth grader knew that there was not a slightest chance he could win the fight he would have refrained from fighting and instead surrendered believing the bully—actually this is exactly what our criticized child does. So, where the criticized child is our injured child part, the inner defender is our strong child part. The problem is as strong as the attacked fifth grader sees himself, he cannot get his classmate to stop yelling this way.

In order to stop the fight we need some kind of an intervention from someone in a higher stage of development. Let’s say a compassionate teacher to talk with attacker, Joseph in this situation. The teacher would empathize and then investigate to see where the bully is coming from.

After assessing the situation, the teacher might explain to the child that the only person he has power over is himself. Maybe they could start by talking to Joseph first and trying to be compassionate. Maybe it is just to ignore him, shake his insults off and instead working on his own goals and strengths. On the other hand, the  wise and protective teacher might talk to Joseph and try to get him to empathize with Abdol and understand him.  It is important to note that this intervention will work if the teacher have been able to establish a secure and trusting relationship with the kids. And this is exactly what we need to do with our parts.

How can we help?

We have to intervene from a part of us—the self who is more mature, has advanced development compared to the inner defender and the inner critic, and who feels calm, safe and compassionate in their body. The self is kind , wise, trusting and curious. It really is interested in getting to know Joseph and Abdol ( our inner critic and inner defender). It cares about their well-being. It genuinely wants to hear their feelings, their needs, etc. For instance maybe then our inner critic part confides in us that it is attempting to dodge abandonment or rejection through these hurtful remarks. Maybe the inner defender tells us that he thinks the inner critic is so rude and threatens everybody. This is exactly the kind of conversation you would want to have with your inner parts as well. You need to talk to them from such a loving, mature and trusting place that they tell you everything about their inner state, their memories, their fears, their concerns, etc.

Only then you would be able to work with them to come up with a creative solution so everybody is happy and safe. For instance, you could tell the inner critic that it is hurting the criticized child and this is why the inner defender is concerned. You could also tell the inner defender that even though his intention is precious his efforts will only provoke the inner critic to fight back with more heat.

How to Find A Therapist Who Helps You Feel Safe

If you found your way to this article, then it is likely you are in search of a therapist for either you, your child, or your family. Finding a therapist can be challenging when you are not quite sure what to look for or what to expect from the interactions. Your search may be further complicated by the fact that you are unsure of what you can ask a potential therapist and what kind of answers you can expect. This post is designed to help make the process a little more streamlined and helpful for you as you navigate finding a therapist that is a good fit for you.

Most private practice therapists will offer an initial consultation where you get to meet or talk to the potential therapist of your choice. This session tends to be under 30 minutes, is free, and is scheduled at a time that works best for you and the therapist. The free consultation appointment serves two purposes: 1) the therapist wants to gage if they will be able to work with you, and 2) you need to determine if the therapist is someone with whom you connect. This second is the most important of the appointment. Think of this as a double-sided interview! You are interviewing your therapist. 

What to Look for on the Therapist’s Profile or Website

Remember that you only have about 15 to 20 minutes to meet with each potential therapist. During that time, the mental health person will also have a few basic questions that they will want answered. That means you should come prepared. There are some general bits of information that all therapists will have on their websites. You should think of therapist websites as a way to get to know the therapist that you are looking to meet. Set aside time to click on as many of their tabs that it takes for you to decide whether you want to reach out to the person. Let this be the first wave of filtering through the sea of therapists in your area. This is a very important step because research shows that the relationship between you and your therapist is the critical piece that will help determine if therapy will be beneficial for you. So, here are some foundational things that you want to look for on a therapist website. 

  • What are their fees? – This helps you figure out if you can afford them.
  • How long are sessions? – Typical sessions are between 45 and 60 minutes for individual sessions. 
  • What are their hours and days of operation? – If you have scheduling needs, the therapist will not be able to change their operating hours to accommodate your schedule. Therefore, you would need to find someone who has hours that meet your needs. 
  • What licenses do they hold? – Check to see if they are licensed for therapy or if they are a life coach. Counseling and coaching are different. Therapists can coach, but legally, coaches can’t counsel. 
  • What types of clients do they see in their practice? – While some therapists see people with a wide variety of healing points, most therapists specialize in a couple areas. You’ll be looking to see if the therapist lists the areas that you most want to discuss. 
  • What modality of therapy do they provide (e.g., in-person, teletherapy, phone sessions, or a combination of them)?

Do Therapist Identities Matter?

So far, we have discussed the basics, except not really. Something that is often missing from therapist profiles is how they identify. In my opinion, therapists tend to spend too much time telling visitors who they serve, and not enough about who they are. This is not our fault, most of us were trained from a colorblind approach, which is rooted in racism, and many of us were trained to work as experts, (yep, that’s paternalism). However, it is our responsibility to do the work to decolonize our learning and its effect on you. The truth is that yes, therapists are highly skilled and well-educated on topics of mental health. We know how to join journeys and work with people to help meet their emotional health healing needs. However, the notion of expertise sometimes takes away your autonomy and stifles your capacity for insight development. Equally powerful, therapists who have not yet started doing their own internal work to face their internalized harmful beliefs (e.g., racism, audism, gender bias, xenophobia, transphobia, etc.), may be providing you with approaches that were never designed for you. Therefore, when you are on a therapist website or profile, it may be a good idea for you to see how the therapist describes themself. 

  • Do they identify their race?
  • Do they share any of their identities? 
  • Can you tell where they stand on topics related to social justice?
  • Is there any mention of them doing ongoing work to decolonize their practice? – The keyword is “ongoing” and is important regardless of the therapist’s race and intersecting identities because this work is never ending. 

If all of these questions are answered on the mental health therapist’s website and their responses are aligned with what is appropriate for you, then it’s time for you to prepare for your consultation. If some of these questions have been left unanswered, then you can decide if you want to ask them at your appointment or if you want to continue looking for someone else. 

How Can I Ask Taboo Questions?

You may be wondering if there are questions that you can’t ask at the initial consultation session. Keep in mind that you can ask any questions that you want. At the same time, the therapist has the right to decide whether or how to answer the question. Some therapists welcome semi-personal questions while others do not. Therapists who want to remain private, may be engaging in the healthy practice of setting and maintaining boundaries. Therapy is very intimate, and sometimes when you know too much about a therapist, you may feel that they are your friend instead of a professional who is there to support you. Friendship is reciprocal in the emotional care labor, therapy is not. This means that with your friends, you are there for them on their emotional rollercoasters and they are there for you on yours. However, you should never be on your therapist’s emotional rollercoaster. 

Anyway, when formulating questions to ask during the initial consultation, determine why you want to know a specific answer. The why, will help you rethink how to get the information. For example, if you are a parent, you may wonder if the therapist has children. Why do you want to know that? It is likely because you want to know that you will feel understood, but whether a therapist has children does not necessarily mean that they will understand your parenting needs. There is another way to ask that question and get a more in-depth view into how the therapist works. Below you will find a chart with a few examples, that are not exhaustive, to explain this concept a little more. 

Instead of Asking ThisConsider Why Try This
Do you have children?You really want to know whether your therapist will understand you.How do I know you will be able to understand my parenting needs?
Are you into ethical non monogamy or polyamory?You may be curious about being negatively judged.Tell me how you approach working with people who are in poly relationships.
Are you married?You are exploring the therapist relationship values according to religious or legal standards.Marriage is ___ to me. What is your experience working with clients who share this belief?
Are you religious?You may want to know if you will have to teach your therapist about your religion or you are trying to avoid having religion in the sessions. What role does religion play in your therapeutic approach?
Have you ever been…You might be trying to figure out if the therapist has a shared experience that is important to you. I have felt invalidated or alone in some of my experiences, what might emotional validation look like in a session with you?

Ready to Start The Search

Let’s review the major takeaways for this article. 

  • Carefully review therapist websites and profiles.
  • Be critical when reviewing websites to see if they are transparent about some of the basics.
  • Therapists identities matter. 
  • The consultation is for you both of you to determine if you can work together.
  • Come prepared with 3 to 5 questions. You may only have time for a couple of them, but three is a good base number. 
  • Think about the why when preparing to ask questions of the mental health professional.

I know that finding a therapist who meets your needs can be challenging. Once you know what you are looking for, it can be just a little bit easier. I hope that this article helps you find your next therapist to join you on your journey. 

Remember to take a moment to play a little today. You deserve it. 

PlayfulLeigh (pronounced playfully),

Dr. Dowtin

Follow Dr. Dowtin on Instagram (@PlayfulLeigh_Psyched) and Twitter (@PlayfulLeigh) to continue this conversation!

Anxious Attachment Desert

Dear Soft Hearted Loves,

I’d like to discuss the phenomenon when anxiously attached folks find that love and it feels like chilled water in the deepest, driest desert.

The book, Attached: The New Science and how it can Help you Find- and Keep- Love, discussed the literature on attachment styles and how there are more avoidant attachment style folks in the dating pool because things sometimes don’t work out with them as often. You may know avoidant attachment styles to be scared, emotionally unavailable (EU), fuck boys, or those hot and cold folks that feel confusing. They leave or are left more often than their non-avoidant attachment style counterparts and are therefore often who people date, including anxiously attached people. When an anxious attachment style person matches with someone who can meet their needs they may feel completely enthralled or fall for them quickly. This quick to fall for thing is part of folks who are anxiously, or at least partly anxiously attached (such as people who have anxious-avoidant attachment style).

If we go imagine a baby who is anxiously attached crying and paired with an EU care giver it is kind of sad. Now, if we imagine the sweet little baby getting their cries met with tender, gentle attentiveness then we can see how the anxiously attached adult is not that different. When the adult finally connects with that person who sees them and can express reassurance (with boundaries of course) it can feel like that delicious cup of water in the dry, hot desert. Ahhh, finally! It is truly amazing when we can be our own partners and give ourselves just what we need. It is also helpful to know how to weed out some of the people who may trigger our childhood wounds rather than support us on our healing paths.

When anxiously attached folks have this water in the desert experience it is not unexpected. Folks may feel they are on fire when they’re falling for someone. This is sometimes when I get the pleasure of working with someone in therapy around the wounds that feel ignited by being interested in someone. They may have a partner who is able to be attentive and still feel triggered. Or they may be leaving a relationship that did not provide them with what they needed. If we go back to the sweet little baby crying example we can have compassion for whatever comes up for the anxiously or anxiously-avoidant attached person is experiencing. It is all okay.

Attached: The New Science and how it can Help you Find- and Keep- Love discusses ways in which folks can spot an avoidant attachment style person and what to do if you are one or need help with that. I believe it is empowering to know that while we may not be able to pair up all the sweet little babies with their appropriately matched attachment style caregiver, we can help them side step repeating this pattern over and over in sex and romance. We can work internally to give ourselves what we need and learn to stop this pattern through trauma healing and discernment of attachment styles.

Check out the book Attached here.

With kindness,

Dr. J

Accept, Empower and a Full Moon

Dear soft hearted loves,

How can we accept an issue or suffering in our lives? Isn’t this just giving up?

Acceptance of an area of suffering can then empower us to not pass that wound down to future generations or our own internal families. If you’re like “what’s she talking about with this internal family stuff” please check out blogs below on internal family systems (IFS). IFS helps us access parts of us that critique ourselves to protect from others criticizing, rejecting, or leaving us, our sweet inner child, and other internal parts of ourselves. When we can acknowledge what parts of us need we access more presence, inner wisdom, and that quiet that is within us already.

It is understandable to find it difficult to accept the pains and strains we may experience. For example, if someone struggles with codependency and continues to over extend themselves it may be hard to look at that pattern. I can’t speak for IFS, but it’s my experience as a clinical psychologist and as a human that this codependency pattern didn’t start with you. We would want someone to take note of ways in which the pattern or suffering is impacting their internal or external life. For example, does the pattern or suffering drain your energy, spiritual life, money, or connectedness? Do you get quick spikes in energy from the behavior only to see you don’t have enough space later? Do you notice yourself lashing out, feeling depleted or resentful, or disconnected with others more than you’d like to? A gentle, and honest look at how something serves us can open the path to healing. And it’s not always easy because sometimes we needed a bout of codependency or workaholism to help us get through a hard time such as being a provider during the pandemic.

If we notice that the pattern is creating suffering we can then thank the parts of us that showed up in these ways to shield or connect us with people as best as we could at that time. Perhaps we felt we needed to have people need us in order to win attention. Or perhaps we needed to be super helpful so someone in the family could get more medical help, to avoid getting yelled at, or so we could escape seeing someone else hurt. Whatever the reason, there’s a purpose for the pattern and it may go back intergenerationally.

It can provide validation to your inner child to name it and to not perpetuate this cycle internally and with generations to come. It’s far more empowering to name the suffering than to pretend it’s still serving us well. It’s empowering to look at this stuff because then we can pick up this pattern and name it. Easier said than done. And the pattern may have grey area, especially over time.

Empowering

Whether the pattern is unhelpful codependency, obsessive thoughts, perfectionism, or something else, when we spot it we have so much spaciousness from there. If codependency is the pattern causing suffering and we are able to validate our inner child and acknowledge this issue then we have tools to do differently moving forward. We can talk with a peer working on the same stuff, attend therapy tailored toward trauma healing, go to a 12 step program, write about it, sing about it, etc. We then have open space to heal these wounds. This is the beauty and gratitude of my work. I get to work with folks who say “this thing in my life no longer serves me” and we can honor that part of their story and work on loving themselves, boundaries, imagery, and healing to do differently for their internal family and future generations.

Releasing

So wait, where does the full moon come into play here? There’s a full moon this weekend. If there’s a pattern you’d like to release, this is the time to do it. Acceptance and then setting intentionality around releasing an old pattern may help us do better next time, especially around the full moon. This is a time when some believe that old patterns can be released. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to share what you’re going to release this full moon or if you want support on this journey of uncovering and transforming: drjoharchi@softheartpsychology.com

With kindness,

Dr. J

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Inner Champion Team

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Dear Soft Hearted Loves,

Some of us are still working on our inner critics. There are so many wounds and injuries that can cause us to protect these wounded parts of ourselves. Sometimes we develop a protective mechanism of behaving perfectly. While perfectionism may have helped us survive bullying or a critical environment, it may no longer serve us. As we address our inner critics and inner protective parts, we may have a saving grace growing inside us. This saving grace is our team of cheerleaders.

Earley and Weiss discuss how we can rally a team of people who are our champions (from the book Freedom From Your Inner Critic*). You can spend a few minutes doing this exercise as it can be truly healing. I did it with some light jazz on in the background, when no one was around and with some breathing and groundedness.

You can feel your feet on the floor acknowledging the land of the people who were here before us. You can take some breaths from the bottom of your tummy. You can imagine a timeline from now until you were little (or the reverse). You can imagine all those who were in your corner. Think of anyone and everyone who has been understanding, kind, compassionate, and supportive. You can even add people you’ve never met but who may be in unity with or proud of you (I used imagery to imagine Frida Kahlo as a part of my Inner Champion Team). Please take a moment to imagine your Inner Champion Team spanning all your years. You can also put these visuals into another form of art such as a vision board or in a song if that fits you better. Please feel free to share one surprising person on your Inner Champion Team if you’d like.

With kindness,

Dr. J

*I have no affiliation with this book.

You Are Seen

Dear soft hearted loves,

This week psychologist and founder of The Green Garden, Dr. Chona Green wrote a guest blog on comparison. You’ll find her helpful reflections below.

With kindness,

Dr. J

How do people do it? How do so many people appear to have everything altogether? How do they manage to have such picture perfect lives? With their perfect bodies, perfect homes, perfect meals, perfect pets, perfect everything!!

Double-Edged Sword

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to other people around us. Individuals will often compare what they have to what they see other people accomplishing around them. Some of this social comparison is healthy. It is what drives and motivates certain people to strive for more. Sometimes seeing someone like you accomplish a dream can be inspiring. It can lend itself to ideas you may have never thought of on your own like traveling to that faraway island, becoming an astronaut, trying out for the NBA. Sometimes we need to see others thriving to know that we can do it too. 

However, in this world of an untarnished Instagram reality, it becomes so easy to feel that you don’t matter and that what you’re doing isn’t enough. It becomes effortless to feel invisible. Comparing ourselves to others can get out of hand and become damaging to our self-esteem. We may start to feel that what we’re doing is inconsequential compared to what other people have attained in life. And we shrink away from the attention or accolades we deserve because of this social comparison we’ve established within ourselves.  

Barriers

This mindset is not only unhealthy but it also limits our potential. This mindset that we are not “good enough” stops us from being seen, asking for what we want, and going after our dreams. This mindset affects all areas of our lives – from our careers to our romantic relationships to our hobbies and leisure activities. Owning this mindset stops us from completing simple tasks like taking a day off from work because we’re so concerned with what everyone else is doing and how they will view us for not being at work. We start to question our own needs and feel undeserving of what we want. 

The truth is you deserve the world! You are not invisible. You and your efforts are seen. And there is someone out there who admires you too, even if you don’t feel that way. Someone is observing your accomplishments in the same light that you shine on other people. Who cares if someone is reaching heights that you haven’t accomplished yet? There is always room for growth and improvement. Be proud of what you are doing and what you have accomplished thus far. No matter what, know that you are not invisible and you are seen. 

“Being proud of who we are as people is more important than cutting into ourselves to create this false idea of beauty.”

-Isla Fisher

Please reach out to Dr. Green for questions about therapy services in Maryland or check out her thoughtful website for blogs, resources, etc.

https://thegreengardenmd.com/

Gaslighting Yourself?

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Dear soft hearted loves,

If you grew up in an environment where you couldn’t feel or express yourself in a way that didn’t leave you ignored, neglected, teased, or hurt then you may still feel confused at times. You may talk yourself out of what’s coming up for you. My goal with this blog entry is to start the conversation around the importance of validating our own experience.

First, it may be helpful to acknowledge that gaslighting yourself was a way that helped you survive a toxic situation or challenging upbringing. For example, if you were able to tell yourself that papa’s outburst was because you didn’t do what he asked then you gave yourself control in an otherwise out of control situation. Essentially, reframing what happened may have allowed us to remain close enough to care givers who could provide us what we needed. Now, self-doubt, questioning, and outright gaslighting of ourselves may no longer serve us.

It is so helpful to be around folx who can model this validation. These folx do not have to agree with what we are saying, more so just conveying validation for our expressed emotions can be healing. When the shame, doubt, and gaslighting spirals, we can ground ourselves in breath and in our body in the moment. Easier said than done, I get it.

We can also affirm that we are who we are and we don’t have to compare to so and so’s reaction, or oh so cool demeanor. You can softly, lovingly affirm that you are enough. If you need specific affirmations around what’s coming up, this is the time to shower in rays of affirmation and any soothing touch/movement if that’s comfortable for you (a self-hug, rocking, or humming).

If we feel something that’s okay. It’s more than okay. There’s so much power in knowing what’s up with ourselves and expressing it if needed or even just simply noting it for ourselves. Imagine what it feels like when someone really hears us out. I feel relaxation in my body and love radiating in my chest when I’m heard and connected. Now, imagine what it feels like to hear yourself out.

Listen, it’s totally understandable that the inner critic comes up and we believe those old stories from time to time. It’s hard to be totally aware of these passing inner critic thoughts. For some, this is the default mode. I send us patience around this journey. Wishing you kind outer and inner models for lovingly validating and affirming yourself.

With kindness,

Dr. J

Diet Mentality and Racism

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Dear Soft Hearted Loved Ones,

The incredible book by Sabrina Strings called “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia”* discusses the history of what’s been fed to us as supposed beauty. This has hands down been one of the most eye opening books. As someone who drew lines on her body to indicate where she wanted the fat removed and someone who pined after the thin but also simultaneously magically curvy ideal, I am mind blown by the fact that all of this has been fed to me since before Renaissance Times in one format or another. This is intergenerational, racist programming that we can reprogram for ourselves.

Sabrina Strings explained how “two critical historical developments contributed to a fetish for svelteness and a phobia about fatness: the rise of the transatlantic slave trade and the spread of Protestantism.” Deciders of what is beautiful and healthy began centuries before we ever had racist BMIs, camera filters, and diets. People fear doctors appointments where they will be shoved propaganda that their bodies are to be shamed and the reason for their aches and pains. Really, based on what? Racist research rooted in racist body ideals created centuries ago?

I get it. I get that when I am active and eat intuitively I feel awake and vibrant. I feel me and okay to be! This is the space I now pine over. However, we obsess over dieting. We hear it in the break room, on medias, and it taunts us in conversations with friends. If we keep shaming people into eating and looking a certain way we will keep damaging bodies and spirits. The diet mentality of America has us looking at incredible figures losing weight as a morality marker. So eating more or being in a bigger body means we are less moral? How can we expect anyone to have clarity around these confusing messages?

I’m not promoting any type of body. I’m promoting awareness of the damage we’ve done to bodies and spirits. Sending you love and kindness to your sweet, hard working, curious body in this moment. May we all take a moment to question our understanding of diet mentality, beauty, and bodies today.

With kindness,

Dr. J

To buy this book:

https://bookshop.org/a/23992/9781479886753 

 

I Feel Fine!

Dear Soft Hearted Loves,

I have a friend who brought to my attention that people often walk by stating “how are you” and keep walking before hearing an answer. It may feel like a socially appropriate or common question; however, we rarely wait around to hear the answer. Is there room to reply with anything less than “fine” if people do ask and wait to hear the response?

It may also be helpful to consider who you are as the “asker” given different layers of privilege. Are there any cultural differences in expression regarding this question for the person responding? Or, if a person in power asks their employee how they are, does the person have freedom to reply honestly without any repercussions or judgment?

Some of us feel pressured to show the sunny side of how we are feeling. This toxic positivity cannot be mistaken for gratitude or authentic joy. When we are not sure how we feel or when we automatically reply with a socially appropriate “doing well” I’m concerned we are not honoring what’s going on. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely glossed over a “how are you” with an “I’m fine” when I was not or was unsure.

There’s so much wrapped up in expression of emotions. For many of us we may not even know how we actually feel. Physical and or emotional feelings are charging through our bodies. Rarely do we answer the passerby with an answer to their quick and mindless “how are you” with a genuine and attuned response such as “I’m feeling sad, grateful and my chest feels heavy.” While this response may be true we rarely hear the thorough and deep response from folks that can possibly aide connection and reduce isolation.

I honor you taking pause or a mindful moment to see how your body and emotions are and where they are experienced. If you are unsure, I invite you to tell me, “I’m not sure how I am or what I’m feeling.” If you know how you are or what you’re feeling I also make space for you to tell me I know and I don’t feel like sharing right now. It’s all okay.

In addition to taking pause to notice and attune we can note what arises. For example, we can practice noting general feelings including irritability, sadness, silliness, joy, disappointment, fear, and so on. We must recover from isolation with feelings. Noting what we are feeling is not so easy for people who grew up where feelings other than anger were rarely expressed. If you didn’t grow up with healthy models for emotional expression, is there something you can give yourself now that you did not get when you were younger such as taking moments to identify or attune with what’s coming up or finding a trusted person to talk with about these feelings?

There’s so much corrective repair and transformation that can come from attuning to and noting what comes up for us. If you’d like, you can share in the comments section what or how you feel in this moment. Please do so only if you would like to. I’m listening.

With kindness,

Dr. J

Attachment, Love, and Gratitude

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Dear soft hearted people,

Some people say “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” I like to think of love, including self love as a practice. This love practice is not linear or stagnant. We can continue to work on tapping into the love that resides within us and find new ways to give ourselves what we need over time.

You may have heard of secure and insecure attachment styles. Many people who grew up in inconsistent, abandoning, or neglectful homes have insecure attachment styles. These people do not necessarily need to wait until they declare love toward themselves. Hey. It’s not the worst idea to take time to ourselves, date ourselves, and heal wounds before dating others. About half of people in general land in the insecure attachment style group and do not always have a stagnant, linear path toward self love. Literature states that there is not strictly and only the “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else” approach (“Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and how it can Help you Find and Keep Love”, by Levine and Heller, 2012). This book indicated that people can actually love before their attachment stye is healed.

Additionally, in a study conducted in Germany, they found that people with anxious attachment style (one of the insecure attachment styles) had correlations between a decrease in their anxious attachment* with a partner who expressed and showed gratitude (Perceiving gratitude from a romantic partner predicts decreases in attachment anxiety”, by Park, Johnson, MacDonald, and Impett, 2019). When the people in this study had partners who expressed and showed gratitude they reported less anxious attachment and even less a year later.

So while it’s great to take time to love on yourself before inviting in romance, it’s also helpful to start practicing more deep, genuine gratitude with a partner you have now. We can all start with implementing this research into our self love practice and in our love of others by expressing a word of gratitude or showing gratitude daily.

With kindness,

Dr. J

*Folks with anxious attachment style may feel unworthy, unsure of their attachment person loving or caring for them, and need reassurance.

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